"Insane. I would never do that."
The above words still ring in my ears each time I witness opening day of trout season at one Missouri's four trout parks. I made the statement the very first time I witnessed an opening day of catch and release fishing at the James Foundation's Maramec Spring Park in the early 1970s.
I assisted Dr. Ken Chilman, from the University of Missouri School of Forestry, as he filmed the event to show to students in an outdoor recreation class which he taught. "How do people tolerate being so close together while they fish?" I quizzed him.
I still remember Chilman's response: "Fishermen have to prepare themselves mentally for this type of crowding," he said.
A new trout season never approaches that I don't go through the mental processes of reminding myself why and how anglers go about the annual rituals associated with opening day.
After my nerves settled a bit, Chilman talked me into conducting my graduate research at Maramec Spring Park to help determine the factors which influence the quality of visitors' trout fishing experience.
Sixty-five percent of the people I interviewed had traveled from the St. Louis area — about an hour and a half away. Their fishing trips were a one-day event. The most common factor mentioned that affected the quality of the experience for this group of anglers was the opportunity to get into open spaces. Yet, they re-entered a crowd scenario along the stream while fishing.
Other common factors affecting the quality of the overall trout fishing experience included: the beauty of the park, colors found in the outdoors and the opportunity to spend time with family and friends outdoors. Fishing, itself, came in fifth in importance to the quality of the experience for all participants of the research survey.
When asked specifically about being crowded while trout fishing, the vast majority of the anglers did not perceive crowding as a problem. Most felt it was simply a part of trout fishing. The majority mentioned, however, that they participated in other forms of fishing to avoid crowds.
I eventually became the superintendent of Maramec Spring Park. While I still prefer to fish alone, or in remote areas, I developed an understanding of why people like to fish in trout parks. For many, it is a social sport. They can enjoy fishing while in the company of friends.
Hundreds of times over the years, I listened in on conversations of small groups of anglers whom I had observed at the park numerous times. Their outings took on a party atmosphere. They laughed, joked, ribbed one another and appeared extremely relaxed and happy. Taking home a limit of fish was definitely not their highest priority.
Lone anglers appeared to be more serious about fishing. They often concentrated on fishing technique and numbers of fish caught. Crowding became more of an issue with them. Yet, they accept the crowded conditions to enjoy their sport and be outside.
My best advice, if you are thinking about trying trout park fishing for the first time on opening day, is to go with a group of friends. They will adjust your mental attitude rather quickly.